Duck boat accident mate gets jail time

The mate piloting a tug involved in a fatal duck boat accident in Philadelphia was sentenced Tuesday to a year and a day in jail.      

Matthew Devlin, 35, of Catskill, N.Y., earlier pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter and agreed to the permanent revocation of his Coast Guard license. He must report to prison Jan. 5.

The hearing in federal court included the government’s playing of a video prepared by the parents of the two children who died after their tour boat was run over by a barge on July 7, 2010. They live in Hungary and could not attend the hearing. 

Devlin’s lawyer had asked for probation saying he did not act intentionally but out of negligence. Attorney Frank DeSimone quoted Devlin’s doctor in court papers as saying he “is still haunted on a daily basis by images of what took place.”

The government pushed for jail noting in filings that while Devlin is “entirely remorseful” his “misconduct was particularly reckless and prolonged, with terrible results,” and that he had a “responsibility to maintain a proper watch and avoid an easily avoidable collision.”

A Ride the Ducks tour boat, the DUKW 34, was struck by the bow of Philadelphia’s 250’ sludge barge The Resource being towed by the Caribbean Sea, a 2,400-hp tug owned by K-Sea Transportation Partners. The duck boat anchored in the navigation channel of the Delaware River after the captain saw smoke coming from an air vent.

The tug didn’t answer distress calls, because Devlin was distracted by an emergency that developed during his five-year-old son’s eye surgery, the National Transportation Safety Board found. He was in the lower rather than the upper wheelhouse on his cell phone and laptop talking with his family and searching for answers to medical questions.

“I think that any one of us would lose our faculty to make a proper decision at a time like this,” DeSimone said in court papers.

But U.S. District Judge Legrome Davis was persuaded by the prosecutors, who had noted, “The case presents nothing but tragedy, enveloping the defendant as well as the victims.”

Once Devlin learned of the emergency, “He did everything but safely pilot the tug and barge,” the government said. “Assistance lay steps away; Devlin simply needed to rouse the captain of the tug and obtain relief so that he could attend to his personal issues.”

“Goodness gracious; everybody knew this was happening but you,” the judge told Devlin, according to The Associated Press.

Devlin, who spoke publicly about the crash Tuesday for the first time, said he awakes each day to images of bodies and orange flotation devices floating in the river, the AP reported. “There isn’t a morning I don’t wake up with a tremendous pit in my stomach that I was even involved in this accident,” he said. “And for this past year and four months, there hasn’t been one night that we have laid in bed at ease.”

Devlin, who could have received 37 to 46 months in jail, also was sentenced to three years supervised release.




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